Introduction to Romanticism

Introduction to the Romantic Age

The Romantic Age, spanning from 1798 to 1832, brought about a profound transformation in British literature. The publication of Wordsworth's "Lyrical Ballads" started this new artistic movement. The accession of Queen Victoria to the British throne in 1837 marks the end of what is known as Romanticism.

What fostered it?

During the late 18th century, new thoughts and feelings swept through British society, deeply shaped and influenced by the repercussions of the French Revolution that echoed across Europe. This revolutionary spirit prompted an ideological revolution challenging established authorities and giving rise to radicalism, anarchism, socialism, sexual freedom, and early feminism.

Unlike the Augustan age, which emphasised order and adherence to classical ideals in art, Romanticism refused rigid beauty standards and prioritised individual emotions. Writers and artists of this period started exploring the depths of human emotions and the complexities of the human intellect. This newfound focus highlighted the mind's capacity to react to various stimuli, a radical difference with the rigid standards of beauty.

Within this transformative artistic landscape, the concept of the sublime played a pivotal role during this period. It was in the 18th century that the idea of the sublime was separated from that of the beautiful. Influential figures, including journalists and philosophers like Joseph Addison and later Edmund Burke distinguished between these two concepts. Burke's treatise, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, on the origin of the sublime and beautiful was particularly significant. He stated that the sublime did not originate from the creation of beautiful forms or the observation of beautiful objects; instead, it emerged from intense feelings of fear and horror provoked by the infinite and the terrible. Examples of the sublime may occur when experiencing the void or obscurity, when confronting loneliness, or silence.

The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, built upon Burke's concepts in his work "Critique of Judgment," published in 1790. Kant explained that beauty stems from the interplay of sensibility and intellect, whereas the sublime springs from the collision of sensibility and reason, evoking a complex blend of pleasure and dread. This feeling emerges from anything that highlights the vulnerability of humanity, such as the immensity of time and space or natural scenes and phenomena.

These philosophical ideas found their expression in literature. The Romantic poets and writers delved into introspection, psychology, melancholy, and sadness. They embraced myth and symbolism, shifting their focus from the previous age's faith in reason to a new trust in the senses, intuition, and imagination. Romantic literature also exhibited a keen interest in the medieval past, the supernatural, the mystical, the gothic, and the exotic.

Romantic poetry celebrated spontaneity and free experimentation, in contrast to the strict conventional rules of composition and decorum from the neoclassical era. Subjective poetry replaced the objective poetry of the neoclassical age. The language of common people, as opposed to the artificial "poetic diction" of the past, became the choice of the time. The Romantic poets idealized country life, considering "nature" a means of divine revelation, and lyric poetry dominated their works.

This age also fostered rebellious views against oppression, restraints, and controls and celebrated human rights and individualism. Moreover, women writers, like Anne Radcliffe, Jane Porter, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen, flourished during this period.

Criticism became an integral part of Romantic literature. Notable figures like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Lamb, De Quincy, and Hazlitt contributed significantly to the literary discourse.

The first pre-romantic poets were Thomas Gray and Robert Burns. Thomas Gray lived before the American and the French Revolutions and was a classicist. He is the first to write poetry about the life of humble people, for example, in 1761 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard' is a funeral elegy. It anticipates the Romantic cult of melancholy and death. It was seminal for many European writers.

Robert Burns was a self-taught poet. He wrote about love, music, country life and nature in the Scottish Highlands. His poems use a simple language. They are often written in dialect. Robert Burns used popular poetic forms like the songs and the ballads.

The Romantic Age was characterized by a great many talented writers, including :

William Blake (1757-1827):

Precursor of Romanticism.

His works include: "Songs of Innocence" (1789,) "Songs of Experience" (1794)

William Wordsworth (1770-1850):

First-generation Romantic poet.

His works include: "Lyrical Ballads" (1798), "The Prelude" (1850) and other poems

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834):

First-generation Romantic poet.

His works include: "Biographia Literaria" (1817,)"Lyrical Ballads" (1798) ("The Rime of the Ancient Mariner") and other poems

Lord Byron (1788-1824):

Second-generation Romantic poet.

His works include: "Don Juan" (1824), "Childe Harold"

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822):

Second-generation Romantic poet.

His works include: "Prometheus Unbound" (1820,) a lyrical drama, "Adonais" (1821) and other poems

John Keats (1795-1821):

Second-generation Romantic poet.

His works include:"Endymion" (1818,) "Hyperion" (1820,) "Odes and Other Poems."

Charles Lamb (1775-1834):

Essayist, poet, antiquarian, and key figure in a literary circle.

His works include "The Essays of Elia" (1823) and "The Last Essays of Elia" (1833)

William Hazlitt (1778-1830):

Critic, English essayist, and philosopher.

His works include "The Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth" (1820) and "The Spirit of the Age" (1825)

Jane Austen (1775-1817):

Known for her novels of manners that offer a unique perspective in the Romantic Age

Her works include ("Northanger Abbey,"a Gothic novel), "Pride and Prejudice," "Sense and Sensibility," "Mansfield Park," and "Emma."

Mary Shelley (1797-1851):

Famous for "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus" (1818) and other works.

LnT suggests

LnT "The Romantic Period: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature, 1789-1830" by David B. Pirie:

This book provides an in-depth exploration of the intellectual and cultural context of English literature during the Romantic period, covering the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It delves into the social, political, and philosophical influences on literature during this era.

LnT "The Cambridge Companion to British Romantic Poetry" edited by James Chandler and Maureen N. McLane:

This companion offers a comprehensive look at British Romantic poetry. It includes essays by various scholars, discussing key poets, themes, and the historical context of this poetic movement. It's a valuable resource for analyzing and teaching Romantic poetry.

LnT "The Romantic Revolution: A History" by Tim Blanning:

This book takes a historical approach to the Romantic Revolution. It explores the broader historical changes that influenced the Romantic era and its impact on art, culture, and society.

LnT "The Oxford Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry" edited by Tim Kendall:

Focusing on the intersection of war and poetry, this handbook covers British and Irish war poetry from various periods, including the Romantic era. It can be a useful resource for discussing how war themes were explored in Romantic poetry.

LnT "The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Romantic Period" edited by Stephen Greenblatt:

Part of the larger Norton Anthology series, this edition focuses specifically on the Romantic Period. It includes a wide selection of poems, prose, and plays from this era, making it a valuable resource for studying and teaching Romantic literature